Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lady, we want to see what you look like for a good reason

There is a court hearing in Ontario on March 13 that will be reviewing another judge’s decision to require a Muslim woman to remove her face veil when testifying as witness in a trial. This is in order that the judge and the lawyers can try to determine her reliability from her demeanour as she testifies.

In more than 800 years of legal development in English common law, the right of an accused or a defendant to make full response to an accuser has been enshrined in the right of cross-examination under oath. A masked witness handicaps the defense. That much should be obvious.

Unfortunately, the judge who decided the case apparently did so on the grounds of his assessment of the religiosity (not very) of the potential witness. It was the right decision for the wrong reason.

I have read a lot about Islam and the one thing that comes through all the commentary is that donning the veil is not a religious requirement; it is a matter of personal choice. Now there may be an argument that the choice is made by men and therefore supporting the veil under all circumstances is anathema to our western culture in that it symbolizes male suppression of females. But there are enough women who say they do so of their own free will, so it is difficult to determine how far we should be pushing the male dominance theme.

The law should simply recognize that is a personal choice and tell the people who make those choices that there are circumstances in our society when their personal choices, or the personal choices made for them by their husbands or fathers, must be set aside for a greater good.

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